Choices Juda Engelmayer

Southwest Airlines Delivers Goodwill

southwest airlines

Things have not been good for Southwest Airlines on the PR front lately, but Ronn Torossian says a recent decision may just put them back on even footing. It’s the sort of thing that used to be called “customer service” but is fairly rare these days. A thing that Southwest can justifiably be proud about.

Here’s the story, as reported by travel correspondent Andrew Der:

Her flight was just about to take off when Peggy Uhle was pulled off the plane with terrible news. She was instructed to call home immediately, and when she did, Uhle learned that her son had fallen into a coma. As the horrific news landed on Uhle, Southwest was already working on her behalf. Agents booked her on a direct flight home to her son, complete with a luggage transfer, private waiting area, priority boarding and a meal – and she never had to say a word. Who could in that situation, right?

Looking back now, Uhle remembers the confusion, sadness and horror of that day, as well as the comfort and care she received at the hands of the airline. “With less than an hour between flights, I did not turn my phone on to check messages. I boarded, and we started to pull away from the gate. When the plane stopped, and they came to me, I figured I was on the wrong plane.”
That’s when flight attendants escorted her to the gate agent, who said she needed to call her husband immediately. She did and learned her adult son was now in a coma.

Generally, a refund and return policy requires extensive fees and, sometimes, paperwork. But Southwest was having none of that. Uhle recalls the stellar customer service: “They offered me a private waiting area, rerouted my luggage and allowed me to board first. Later, they even called to see how my son was doing.”

Of course, the situation could have gone much, much differently. This story is a great example of the difference people can make, in your business and in your consumer PR. When you hire empathetic people and give them discretion to make the “right call,” you set yourself up for a strong PR win. However, if you hold your people back from acting in a way they feel will best care for the customer, or if you hire people who aren’t willing to make that call, it will come back to bite you.